USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘myth’
Festival
Holidays
Myths
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Diwali

Context:

The informant – RB – is a middle-aged Hindu woman, originally from West Bengal, India. She now works as a nutritionist in South Florida, and is one of my mother’s closest friends. The following happened during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about some of her favorite Indian folklore, particularly about holidays and celebrations.

Piece:

Diwali is called the Festival of Lights. This is kind of associated with on of our mythologies, which is Ramayana, where Rama, who is a prince, was sent to exile for fourteen years. Rama’s father was a king, married three times. By rule, what happens is the eldest son is successor to the throne. But, what happened was, the middle wife goes to the king, who in the past helped him a couple of times, and the king had said, “I want to grant you two wishes, since you took such good care of me.”

And she said, “I don’t need anything now, but when the time comes, I’ll ask you for my wishes.”

So when her children grew up, she went to the king and said, “Now you have to grant me my two wishes.”

So the king goes, “Okay, tell me what you want me to do.”

She says, “I want you to send your oldest son to exile for fourteen years, and I want you to make my son the king.”

The king was very upset, he’s like, “That is unheard of – you cannot do that.”

But she says, “You said you would grant me two wishes, those are the only two wishes I have.”

And the oldest son, who was very respectful of his father, says, “You know what? If that’s what you had promised her, I don’t mind. I’ll go into exile for fourteen years, and I’ll come back after that.”

So he goes into exile, and there are a whole bunch of stories about what happens when he’s away. But, the day that he comes back to his kingdom after being in exile, the whole country was lit up with diyas to welcome him back, since he was such a good person. And that’s the day we also – since it was believed that, when he comes back to the kingdom, there will be wealth and prosperity – worship the goddess of wealth, since it is believed that, on Diwali, that is the day that wealth and prosperity will come to your house.

So you will see all Hindu households light candles, exchange sweets, exchange gifts and clothes: it is a huge time of celebration. There is one thing we also do, and it is kind of related to your Halloween. We also light a lot of fireworks that day, because we say we are scaring away the evil with the fireworks; and we are welcoming the good by welcoming the candles and the diyas.

 

(Later, after asking about the religious nature of the holidays)

 

RB: We call it religious, but they are more social religious than just religious, because it all involves inviting people, having dinners, lunches, dressing up, having music and dances. There’s a lot of culture that is associated with these festivals, so it is not that you’re just in the temple, reciting hymns or chanting. That is a very small part. It’s all about dressing up, looking good, and eating food. That is how we keep in touch with each other. At these festivals, at these religious ceremonies as we call it, we go visit each other. We keep in touch with each other and socialize with each other. I think we use it more for socializing and less for religion, which is how it should be.

One thing I want to clarify is that Hinduism is not a religion. It is mostly a way of life. And that is why you can’t be converted to Hinduism: because, either you are born one or you’re not. And if you are born one, you are taught the way of life since you’re born. But, you can still marry into it. We do not require people to change their religion when you marry, because we just think that when you come to a Hindu household, you will learn the way of life. Hinduism does not require that you go to a temple everyday, or pray everyday. They just teach us that everything should be a part of your life: that you clean your house and take care of each other, etc.

 

Analysis:

It was very interesting to hear how RB views Hinduism – not as much of as a religion, but more as a culture and lifestyle. Hearing the mythologies of these holidays with this context explains why there is seemingly more variation in the ways people tell these stories. It seems as though Hindus really value large social gatherings, and will use religious holidays as excuses to throw large social celebrations. It seems that the point of many religious occasions is much more social than it is religious. I feel that this is likely the result of a seemingly much more inclusive and accepting religion, that values socializing and lifestyle over religious and social boundaries.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech

The Royal Toe

Context: My informant is a 22 year-old student of Italian descent. We were discussing a folk tale that she had heard while studying abroad in London in the prior year.

 

Background: My informant expressed that she was unaware of how the tale or myth began, but it was one that she heard on several occasions. There are many different myths regarding what the different length of fingers or toes mean, but this one in particular involves the royal family.

 

Main Piece: “The myth is, if your second toe is longer than your big toe, you come from a royal bloodline. There was a similar one that said you were related to Princess Diana specifically. I was sitting at dinner with a few friends one night, and one girl was wearing open toed shoes. She had this special toe apparently, and our waiter pointed it out and told her it meant that she comes from the bloodline of the royal family. I just thought it was kind of strange, so a few of the times that I was in a conversation with a local I asked them about it and all said the same thing. I couldn’t tell if anyone really truly believed it, but everyone definitely knew about it.”

 

Analysis: I had never heard of the myth of the Royal Toe, so after doing some research I learned that many famous statues exhibit the “royal toe” as well – one famous example being the Statue of Liberty. It’s interesting to see the different symbolic meaning identified to the length of a digit, and how it’s manifested in different cultures and countries.

 

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Krasue in South Asian Folklore

NC: So there’s this story about crossaway or crosu (Krasue) I don’t know exactly how to pronounce the name but in southeast asian folklore she is supposed to be a very beautiful woman and she’s only a head, so she’s a decapitated head and her entails are hanging out and she’s supposed to float around uh a building- a haunted building or something um she’s- I think she’s searching for something and she might also kill anyone who comes into the building. That’s all I’ve heard about it.

 

Background:

Location of Story – Southeast Asia

Location of Performance – Dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore via a group message. NC approached me in person in response to the text and had just discovered this creature herself. 

 

Analysis: Krasue is physically unlike any other “monster” or creature I have heard of before. I was particularly interested in the dichotomy between the woman’s beauty and the grotesqueness of her lower half. For me, this hints at a commentary about how women are viewed around the world globally: her head is attached but her body has been ripped apart by what exactly? If women often fall victim to objectification, then it makes sense that this lore would depict her “body” has being completely consumed by something else or at least lost to something or someone besides herself. Additionally, the fact that she is bound by a building, confirms the archetypical “domestic” woman, but the threat she poses to anyone else trying to reside in her household disrupts this stereotype and protects the space as her own.

Folk Beliefs
Humor

Kissing your elbow

Text

INFORMANT: My dad use to always tell me that if you could kiss your elbow it would turn you into the opposite gender.

 

Background

The informant actually believed this myth to be true when he was little. He originally learned it from his dad but heard it again from his classmates.He found the myth entertaining and said it gave him this belief that there is some sort of magic in the world. He notes that he was scared of becoming a girl and therefore scared of kissing elbow.

 

Context

The informant grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana and is currently in his early 50s, living in Dallas, Texas.

 

Thoughts

This myth plays into the childhood disdain for the opposite gender. This “boys rule and girls drool” mentality makes the idea that there is a way to turn into the option gender a very scary one. Additionally, a child growing up in the south in this time would be very unfamiliar with the transgender community, so the concept of changing genders did seem magical and strange. The aspects made the myth very entertaining for the informant and his friends.

 

Legends
Myths
Narrative

Pele: The Hawaiian Volcano Goddess

Abstract: Pele (pell-ay) is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. The reason this is both a myth and a legend is because the story takes place in both the real world and outside of it. The origin story of how volcanoes in Hawaii came to be and the fact that Pele is a goddess and acts sort of like Greek Gods reason that she is mythological. However, she is a shapeshifter that normally takes the place of an older woman on Earth, so this would make her a legend.

 Background: DM is a 20 year-old  Hawaiian American going to college in California. She grew up her entire life in Hawaii and is very accustomed to the folklore there. She can not trace back the origin of the folklore or when she learned it because it has surrounded her for her entire life. After one piece of Hawaiian folklore came up on a work retreat, I asked her to share the most important ones to her on a later date. DM compares the Hawaiian gods, like Pele, to Greek mythology. They all have their own responsibility on Earth. She dives into the effects of what Pele can do from a story from her father. 

About Pele:

 DM: She is the goddess of volcanoes and takes many forms, but her most common form is an old Hawaiian lady. For context, the only volcano that has a chance of erupting is Kileaua on the big island. Anyway, my dad’s cousin was getting married there, and they were driving home from some party or something a few days before the wedding. And on the main highway, they see this old Hawaiian lady with long gray hair walking on the side. They thought maybe it was Pele, but they were scared so just kept driving. And then on their wedding day, the volcano erupted.

S: So is she someone to be scared of in person like does she cause immediate danger in human form?

DM: Well, I mean, she is a fiery goddess, but she isn’t dangerous. But like you’re supposed to be nice to her, and when they didn’t pick her up she reacted. There are some legends that when a volcano erupts, the lava will go around houses of people who have been nice to her.

S: But like, how do you tell her apart from any other old Hawaiian woman?

DM: You don’t.

 

Interpretation: Pele seems to have undeniable power and garners a lot of respect from the people of Hawaii. The lesson underlying this goddess is to respect your elders. Especially when told to young kids, Pele seems like a mean old lady that can destroy your house and kill you in a fiery pool of lava if you do not show kindness. Since no one really knows what she actually looks like, the people of Hawaii must learn to be nice to all elderly women or possibly suffer the consequences. This portrays Hawaii to be matrilineal and caring of the females, especially the elders, in the community. If Pele was only a myth, there would be no real lesson to treat elders with respect. Since she take the form of an old lady, and, at this point, becomes a legend, citizens will apply the respectful manner to almost all old women to not take any chances of having a really bad day with some lava.

 

For more on Pele, see Legends and Myths of Hawaii by David Kalākaua, 1888, page 46.

 

Kalakaua, David. Legends and Myths of Hawaii. Book On Demand Ltd, 2013.

 

 

general
Legends
Myths
Narrative

“Indian Burial Ground” Seal Beach Legend

Main Piece: “So there is this story that I was told as a kid, that involves this Indian burial ground and the coyote dens who live around it. So story goes that back before anyone ever lived in Seal Beach there was this Indian Tribe that moved into the area of Gum Grove Park. They lived there for many years without any problems, and for the most part lived a pretty uneventful life. Then one day, a group of the Indians had to leave the grounds to go find food for the rest of the tribe. The group went out and was having lots of trouble finding food this time around, until they finally came across some deer. The hunting party killed as much as they could carry, and then headed back to their home. However, when they arrived back the tribe had been murdered by something. The hunters searched for days and days to see if they could find the people or the animal that was responsible, but they found nothing. The hunters eventually buried their dead in the burial ground that is still in Gum Grove, and instead of leaving to start a new life, the hunters stayed at the burial ground and opted to die alongside their tribe. After all the hunters had died, there was a sudden influx in coyotes in the area and especially in the area surrounding the burial ground. They created their dens behind the burial ground, and it is believed that these coyotes are the hunters that were reincarnated as protectors of this sacred ground. And every night at around midnight they would howl and cry, as they are still not over the loss of their family and friends.”

 

Background: KS said that this is a legend that he remembers hearing form his father when he was a child. KS also said that this very park is incredibly close to his house, and that as a kid he loved going with his family to play at the park. But as the years went by, KS liked going and exploring the park with friends and, thus this story would come back into his mind every time they went to the park. They knew that this burial ground was deep in the park and very secluded, and it also had warning signs that would count down to 10, but KS said that he only ever went their once because it had such an eerie feeling. And KS said that he was able to hear the coyotes at night as well, as one time he even saw a couple of the coyote dens the reside by the burial ground.

 

Context of the Performance: KS told me this legend of the Indian Burial ground while we were discussing some of the most famous stories from our communities. This was one that KS particularly remembered and said that it was one of the more unsettling things he had ever experienced.

 

Analysis: This legend is interesting for a couple of reasons. For starters, there isn’t a whole lot of other information about this particular legend on the internet. This in now way means that what KS heard isn’t true or that he is lying, but I think it speaks to just how specific this legend is to his life and perhaps his family. Seeing as how the park was so close to his house, it is entirely possible that his parents used this as a way to discourage him from exploring the more dense areas of the park so that he would stay safe. There are most certainly coyotes in the area, and for a kid to be exploring on his own could definitely be dangerous. Additionally I think this also functions as a legend that seeks to remind us of the horrors that we committed to Native Americans. Having the entire tribe beings slaughtered bye an unknown enemy, and then choosing to die rather than leave their homeland I think is a very powerful way of showing the struggle between Native Americans’ pride and struggle for their land, and the greedy and destructive nature of the colonizer.

Legends
Narrative

Nasreddin Hoca: Turkish Legend

Who is Nasreddin Hoca?

P.N. – “He’s a man we get all of our idioms and fables from essentially.  I don’t know if this guy is real; I’ve been told that he was real, but I don’t know to what extent that’s the case; it’s super old.”

You’ve been told by whom?

P.N. – “Family members, teachers, Turkish people, we would watch movies and make animations of this guy.  He’s been portrayed by everyone, but I can’t say if he’s actually real.”

“‘Hoca’ means teacher; and he is a short, chubby man, with a really really big turban.  A comically large turban.  He has a white beard, and he rides around on his donkey.  He always has a little pack on him. He is the source of most fables, all folklore comes back to him essentially.”

“I remember one story – he comes into the village, and there’s a blind man begging on the street.  He comes over and offers him money, but the blind man refuses.  He leaves the next day.  Comes back, tries to offer him money again, but again the blind man refuses.  And then, the third day he comes back and he offers him a job, and the blind man agrees.  And it kinda teaches you – give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish, he’ll eat forever.”

“To me, Nasreddin Hoca symbolizes the fact that there are so many ways to help people.  A lot of it is: live your life with simplicity, be independent, grow your own food, very much just help people and accept help as well.”

Would you say that you’ve taken this mystery man’s advice into account throughout your own life?

“Without noticing, definitely.  It’s been ingrained in my head.  Not necessarily because ‘oh, Nasreddin Hoca said this,’ but more just like ‘oh, my mother said this, and she got it from this guy, who got it from Nasreddin Hoca!'”

The tale that this person told me, with the blind beggar, reminds me of how many tales are told.  Immediately, I thought of the rules of a folk tale, and how – seemingly – every rule was checked off, making it a perfect story.  This Nasreddin Hoca character was someone I’d never heard of, but he also made me think about my own interpretations of folk tales.  Do I consider all tales told to me from the perspective of one man, going through life, learning lessons?  I just might; and that thought is jarring for me.   In the same way that I may or may not think everything with one voice, I may or may not relate all folklore to one character.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Narrative

El Raton Perez- A variation of the Tooth Fairy – Myth

Piece: “I remember el Raton Perez, basically it’s the Argentinian equivalent of the tooth fairy. It’s basically a fucking sewer rat, I’m just saying sewer rat out of spite, but that was the base of it, you put your tooth under your pillow and he takes it and leaves you money.”

Background information: The informant is a very comedic student with an Argentinian background. Although he resides in the US, he strongly identifies with his Argentinian roots.

Context: This is a myth that he heard as a kid. Instead of knowing the tooth fairy as the “tooth fairy”, he came to know it as el “Raton Perez”, which translates to “Perez the Rat”

Personal Analysis: I was first introduced to the “tooth fairy” by my parents. Being of Hispanic descent, the “tooth fairy” was first introduced to me as “El raton de los dientes” which translates to “The teeth Rat” more or less, the tooth fairy, even though it’s not an actual fairy. I’ve never heard the Argentinian version of the tooth fairy so I was especially intrigued to hear a common last name given to the rat. (Perez) The use of a last name is unique to the Argentinian adaptation because most Latin American countries classify the “tooth fairy” as just, and only that. No specific identity is used.

 

 

Myths

Mayan creation story, Mexico

This myth was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico and is 21 years old. She told me about the creation myth of the Mayan civilization, which she learned about in school.

 

According to her recollection of the myth, the gods created the earth and the sky first, and then animals and living creatures, as well as birds and other flying animals. The gods wanted to be worshipped, but the animals couldn’t talk, so their first effort failed. Thus, they tried to make humans. They tried to make the body out of mud, but it would crumble. In their next attempt they incorporated wood, and they were successful. They reproduced, but they had nothing in their hearts and minds to worship the gods with. The gods were still unsatisfied, so they made a big flood that destroyed humanity. In their final effort, they mixed corn with water and it worked.

 

My friend is Jewish, and she sees a lot of links of this myth to her own religion’s creation myth, such as the world being created from nothing, and a great flood. She also credits this story for the view of maize, or corn, as sacred in many parts of her country. According to her, it can be found not only within the food but in literature, religious sculptures, art in general, and even in some holidays.

 

I think it’s really interesting how Mexico as a country embraces certain aspect of pre-Christian religion and finds ways to incorporate them into their everyday life. Being Jewish myself, I could also see the clear links between the two stories and the blending of different cultures into one story is very interesting.

 

For a more detailed description of this myth, see https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/big-history-project/what-is-big-history/origin-stories/a/origin-story-mayan

general
Myths

The Polish Eagle

Informant IT is a sophomore studying Computer Science and Business Administration at the University of Southern California. She is of Polish descent and has lived in many parts of the world. She is fluent in several languages including Polish, English, and Mandarin, and she considers herself very good at learning languages. In this piece, she tells the interviewer (AK), about a Polish myth concerning the founding of Poland.

IT: So, this is the story of the Polish Eagle, and how Poland is set to be founded. So the three brothers Lef, Czech, and Bruce were living in small villages. But it came to the point where the villages were just too small to live comfortably. So they set out with some troops and they started going through mountains and rivers and they couldn’t find anyone. And it had gotten to the point where they got to the top of a mountain top and they decided to go 3 separate ways. Lef went straight ahead, Czech went left, and Bruce went right. And Lef went down the mountain and went over another valley, and at the top of another mountain, he saw an eagle flying in the sunset and the light apparently fell very beautifully. Uhh on the head of the crown of the eagle head. That’s why it has a crown on its head on the Polish flag. And he decided that this is where they would settle and they brought all the people there, and they called themselves the Polonians. Which means “The people of the fields”. Yeah, that’s the story of the Polish Eagle and how Poland was founded.

AK: So would you say this is more of a legend, or is it almost accepted as fact of how Poland was created?

IT:  I don’t know if I would say it’s accepted as fact, but every single Polish person knows this story, like there’s movies and games and comics about this.

AK: But it’s just been passed down through generations?

IT: Yeah, yeah and they had flown the flag with the eagle on it and the eagle with the crown on its head when they had founded it way back then. And it’s definitely accepted by everyone now.

I really enjoyed listening to this Polish myth about its creation. It definitely invoked a sense of nationalism and pride in my informant and she even mentioned that every Polish person has definitely heard this story. This is one of the aspects of it that makes it into a myth. It has a sacred truth value since everyone knows the story and has accepted it. I knew just about nothing about Polish culture, so it was really interesting to learn a bit through this piece.

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